Horus 44: Flight Report – Riverland BRL Field Day

On April 22nd 2017, the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group conducted an Amateur Radio focused balloon launch from the Riverland Radio Club’s VK5BRL Weekend event at Overland Corner Hotel in the Riverland. This launch was carried out to bring some interesting amateur radio based experiments to a new audience, and also to encourage more tracking stations to take part in Project Horus from the Riverland region (which is often a landing ground for the flights from the Adelaide Hills).

Ground Control

The launch campaign began at 9.00am with Bob VK5FO and Ray VK5RR helping Ivan VK5HS set up the balloon ground control station at the BRL Weekend event.

Horus 44 was the first flight of a new 2m/70cm voice repeater so we also were making contacts through the balloon using the VK5WOW special event callsign throughout the flight, promoting the Wireless Institute of Australia’s AGM which was being held in VK5 a few weeks later.

Launch Crew

Meanwhile the ground crew started preparations to launch the payloads. AREG members Matt VK5ZM, Mark VK5QI, Grant VK5GR, Darin VK5IX and Kim VK5FJ worked on assembling the payload train and filling the balloon with helium.

The predicted flight track was to take us east, to land tot he north west of Renmark. We certainly hoped is would follow that track, as there were many inaccessible obstacles in the Murray River marshlands area.

Lift Off

We were going to find out soon enough! Lift off was a text book effort, and straight away people were accessing the repeater, able to make contacts with VK5WOW. The only issue noticed early on was that the repeater’s receive filters were very narrow, enough to cause the mute to shut if you spoke to loudly. Even with that issue, contacts streamed through think and fast.

Once in the air, the repeater ran hot. The following stations made contact with VK5WOW via the balloon:

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The repeater footprint continued to expand, and just reached Melbourne before the balloon burst.

WENET brings Superb Pictures

In addition to the voice repeater, the WENET camera payload also flew collecting stunning images of the Riverland region from the air.

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Chase & Recovery

Meanwhile the chase teams had driven to Renmark and were watching intently as the balloon progressed along its path.  The two AREG teams were joined this time by Peter VK5PE and a crew from the Riverland Radio Club. The local knowledge they brought to the chase was invaluable!

At one stage we became quite nervous as it appeared it may actually land in the marshes. However, the winds once again became favorable and the landing zone looked very good indeed.

Recovery occurred after a short hike into a local conservation park, but not before we watched the balloon descend gracefully from about 1500m elevation!

Flight Statistics

The fight track for Horus 44 shows that there were fairly light high altitude winds on this day. Once clearing the ground winds the flight profile was remarkably vertical.

The detailed flight statistics are:

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This time we saw major contributions from many of our ground stations too. The following pi-chart shows who collected telemetry for this flight.

Conclusion

It was a very successful flight! A huge thank you again to everyone who was involved, and in particular to the Riverland Radio Club for the invitation to come and fly from their back yard. Thanks also to the AREG members who traveled and stayed in the Riverland to fly Horus 44, with a special thanks to Sharon VK5FSAW who once again helped with logistics through catering the lunches for those chasing the balloon!

“BRL Gathering” Balloon Repeater Launch – April 22nd – UPDATE

The Amateur Radio Experimenters Group is please to announce that it will be supporting an Amateur Radio focused balloon launch, to take place at the Riverland Radio Club’s VK5BRL Weekend event at Overland Corner Hotel in the Riverland.

This event is aimed at bringing together members of the Riverland Radio Club and amateurs from across SA & Victoria, in particular those who participate in the VK5BRL bi-weekly net on HF (heard on 7115kHz  at 8.30am Wednesday and Saturdays).

The morning festivities start off with an early breakfast of coffee, tea and of course bacon,  eggs and sausages.  This is then followed by the BRL net.   The AREG are looking to launch the balloon some time around 11am (to be confirmed) when the NOTAM is raised later this week.

AREG & Project Horus Involvement

The AREG will be marking this weekend with a special balloon flight. It has been some time since the flying repeater was heard on air, so it was felt that it was time to put some more amateur radio back into the balloon flights.

Balloon Repeater Frequencies

The balloon repeater will be heard on:

  • INPUT: 147.500MHz with 91.5Hz CTCSS (+/- thermal drift of the receiver)
  • OUTPUT: 438.850MHz (+/- thermal drift of the transmitter) – 0.8W into 1/4wave omni

Please note that this repeater is experimental, and may have performance issues during the flight.

To transmit to the balloon at the maximum range of 800km (once the balloon reaches 100,000ft ++) you should only need approximately 5-10W and an 2-4dB gain antenna.

Receiving the balloon at 400km range in a handheld environment should be achievable, but to hear the repeater at the maximum range of 800km you should expect to need a 10dB gain Yagi for a 0.4uV capable receiver and 2dB feeder loss

This setup is much the same as the LEO satellites but without the high speed Doppler shift.

PLEASE MAKE SURE YOU CAN HEAR IT BEFORE YOU TRANSMIT!

Additionally, the receiver used in the repeater (a Dorji DRA818) appears to have quite sharp receive filters, which results in the repeater dropping out if the input signal is over-deviated (>4.8 kHz dev). Please talk using a regular speaking voice when using the repeater to avoid issues.

As we will be flying from Overland Corner instead of near Adelaide, coverage at apogee should almost reach Canberra. Contacts from Melbourne to Adelaide through the balloon should definitely be possible.

Other Balloon Payloads

Other payloads being flown on this flight will include:

  1. our standard 100bps 7N1 RTTY telemetry transmitter on 434.650MHz, and
  2. the Wenet imaging payload which will downlink on 441.2MHz at 115Kbit/s, and which will stream HD photos during the flight.

Images can be seen (here).

Tracking will again be available via www.habhub.org

If you would like to learn more about how to get involved in tracking the balloon, take a look at the following resources on the club website.

WIA AGM & Convention Special Event Callsign to be Net Control on the balloon repeater

The Riverland Radio Club will be activating the WIA AGM & Convention special event call sign VK5WOW via the balloon repeater during the event. Contacts with VK5WOW through the balloon will qualify for the award certificate.

Full details of the Convention 2017 award are available via  www.wia.org.au/members/wiaawards/agm2017/

Stay tuned for further details as the flight is finalised. We will announce the final flight time later this week as well as the predicted balloon track.

 

Horus 41/42 Flight Report: Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program Jan 2017

Introduction

For the second year running, the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group was invited to partner with the University of South Australia and the International Space University in delivering the Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program. This program, which is a 5 week intensive live in course offered by the universities to students from around the world, is designed to meet the needs of:

  • Professionals seeking more knowledge of and contacts in the international space sector

  • Graduate researchers in all fields seeking a broader knowledge of international space activities and the disciplines involved

  • Undergraduate students in the final two years of their studies seeking exposure to the various aspects of space studies to complement their undergraduate studies

* Extracted from the ISU Website

Part of the program comprises a simulated satellite launch campaign using a high altitude helium balloon platform, flown using the resources of the Amateur Radio Experimenters Group and Project Horus, which are based here in Adelaide. This in fact marks the 7th year of the group’s High Altitude Balloon Project, which was the brainchild of Terry Baume VK5VZI.

Like many of the Horus launches, this one again sought to strengthen ties with programs that are related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) in education. Bringing Amateur Radio into context with space studies and education helps highlight the huge diversity of the Amateur Radio service and it’s absolutely unique place in the Australian technology landscape. No other radio-communications service provides an opportunity for interested persons from a huge diversity of backgrounds to come together and undertake cutting edge explorations into communications technology.

ISU: Project Space Balloon

The project this year was set some very ambitious goals. Built on the success of last year’s flight, and the newly designed high speed transmission link capability designed by Mark VK5QI, with help from David VK5DGR and Bill VK5DSP, the plan this year was to send aloft two balloons simultaneously, carrying look down cameras observing in both the visible and near infrared spectrum. The aim was to conduct investigations into water resources through remote sensing imagery. These payloads were to downlink their data in real time over the Wenet 115kbit/s telemetry links. A third Wenet payload with an outward looking camera was also flown.

The students were then mentored through the construction of the second Wenet payload by Mark VK5QI and Matt VK5ZM. They were also given training in flight prediction, launch and recovery procedures by Matt and Grant VK5GR and were given opportunities to be involved in every aspect of the flights.

Ultimate launch control, tracking and recovery was then the responsibility of the AREG team, with over 20 members involved in some aspect of the flight, as well as many more amateur radio operators across South Australia who all contributed to receiving telemetry information from the balloon, which helped with the payload recovery efforts.


The Launch Campaign: Horus 41 – McLaren Vale

The day began early, with the AREG and University teams arriving at Serafino’s Winery in the picturesque McLaren Vale region at 8.00am. The first order of business was to unpack the balloon filling station, and then setup the Wenet SSDV receive ground station, which was to be used later in the day to capture the 115kbit telemetry from Horus 41 and relay it into the publicity event at the winery. Horus 41 ground was to be manned by Paul VK5BX and Bill VK5DSP (from UniSA), with much of the equipment supplied by Matt VK5ZM.

Matt and Chris VK5CP were also heavily involved in the publicity engine throughout the day, with Matt again proving adept as master of ceremonies during the launch, describing to the spectators what was happening and the overall process of getting the balloon in the air. He also played a major role in the formal part of the SHSSP program, giving a formal 10 minute presentation on the AREG, Project Horus and Amateur Radio to 100+ guests and VIPs invited to attend the launch.

The payloads were then laid out in order and the balloon train was prepared, with students helping the AREG team along the way. Some extra payload was added in the form of Serafino wine grape seeds, which will subsequently be planted to see if exposure to high altitude changes their character at all many years down the track.

Next, balloon filling got underway and the ISU student team set about helping Grant VK5GR, Andrew VK5XFG, Josh VK5JO and Sharon VK5FSAW getting the balloon filled and readied for launch. Horus 41 was to use a Totex balloon and was carrying approximately 1.2kg in payload weight.

The count down began and everyone kept an eye on the time, knowing that the team in Mt Barker were doing the same thing. We aimed to lift off at 10:00am, but due to some difficulties with the balloon filling equipment, this was delayed slightly. The count down went on hold while this was rectified, and then we resumed. By 10:02am everything was ready, and launch release was placed into Matt VK5ZM’s hands.

Contact was then made with Launch Team 2 up in Mt Barker to confirm how their preparations had run.

The Launch Campaign: Horus 42 – Mt Barker

The Mt Barker launch was a more low key affair, with just the ISU students and the AREG launch team. Mark VK5QI lead operations at Mt Barker, helped by Kim VK5FJ, Dennis VK5FDEN, Anthony VK5AHV, David VK5DGR, Andrew VK5AKH and Gary VK5FGRY. Horus 42 was using a larger Hwoyee Balloon as the flight path was predicted to encounter fewer obstacles.

Horus Ground Control Strathalbyn comes Online

An unseen to the public but vitally important part of the exercise was the work being undertaken by Peter VK5KX and Scott VK5TST to provide a primary ground station for collecting the Wenet imagery. Peter found himself a suitable location on the SE edge of the Mt Lofty ranges and setup the communications bus. It served two purposes, with the first being the telemetry reception and internet uplink, but the second was also recovery team liaison on VHF amateur radio (2m). Repeater coverage in the landing zone was very poor, so simplex relays were used to maintain team communications.

Liftoff for SHSP 2017 – Tracking begins

Finally at 23:45UTC (10:15am) both Horus 41 and Horus 42 made it into the air. At the last minute, the ground winds sprung up at Mt Barker, causing some consternation. The launch was held for 2 minutes while the team waited for the winds to abate, and then we took to the skies. Telemetry started to stream in as the balloons gained height and more distant stations could receive the signals. Images were being received too and all looked good for two successful flights.

Shortly after lift off, however, the first wrinkle appeared in our plans. High Altitude Ballooning is never an exact science, and today wasnt going to be an exception. It turned out Horus 41 wasnt climbing as fast as intended and the low altitude winds were pushing it further south than planned. This was bad news, as it greatly increased the risk of a landing in Lake Alexandrina (and the consequential loss of the payloads) instead of on the open plain to the north of it.

An anxious hour followed where the predictor was watched very closely, tracking height, and the actual landing zone if the flight was stopped at any particular moment. Fortunately the track drifted north and we started to breath easier, once we passed 31km altitude and had removed the lake from the landing equation.

Horus 42 had an easier time, although it too had obstacles to avoid. One of the problems of summertime flying was that the jet stream was quite weak, and so flights don’t travel as far east as the team would prefer. Recovery in the Adelaide hills is never easy due to access and terrain. It’s flight track looked as follows:

This was also one of the most complicated flight campaigns AREG and Project Horus has undertaken. All up we had 2x LoRA transmitters, 2x RTTY transmitters and 3x 115Kbit Wenet transmitters on air on 70cm at the same time! This spectrum display shows how we were spread out across the Amateur 430-450MHz band – where we had to borrow space from the ATV and repeater link segments to accommodate everything.

This puts the amount of work into perspective in constructing and operating all of these facilities.

The reception of all of these telemetry feeds was only made possible by the contributions from amateur radio operators across the state. Those recorded in the system has having contributed telemetry frames were:

Horus 41 RTTY – VK5QI-9, VK5ZM, VK5AKK, VK5ZRL, VK5DF, VK5EI2, VK5NEX, VK5KIK, VK5PJ, VK5ZLX, VK5HS, VK5DMC, vk5ftaz, VK5DF/p, VK5EI, VK5KX, VK5DC, VK5FJGM, VK5ALX, VK5RR, VK5EU, VK5PJ/P

Horus 42 RTTY – VK5AKH, VK5AKK, VK5KJP, VK5KIK, VK5ZEA, VK5DC, VK5PJ, VK5KX, VK5RR, VK5DF/p, VK5ALX, VK5DF, VK5DMC, vk5ftaz, VK5HS, VK5ZLX, VK5TST, VK5EU

SHSSP1 SSDV: VK5DSP,VK5ZM,VK5FI

SHSSP2 SSDV: VK5AKH,VK5KX,MI0VIM,VK5RR

The AREG and SHSSP thank you all for your interest in the project and your contributions to the tracking and telemetry effort.

A special thank you too to Phil Heron MI0VIM who was in Australia this week and flew across to Adelaide especially for this event. For those who didn’t realize, Phil is one of the creators of the HabHub system that the UK High Altitude Society built that is used by Project Horus to support our flights.

And then the Images Flooded In…..

Once the payloads were in the air, the real business got underway. The pictures being retrieved were spectacular:

Horus 42 – Wenet Outward Looking Visible Spectrum

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Horus 41 – Near InfraRed Images

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Horus 42 – Near InfraRed Images

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Recovery – Horus 41

The recovery of Horus 41 was very easy (for a change) with the payload landing on a service track that we could easily get to within 100m by car. Touchdown was ~1km from the tracking team, although we weren’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it in the air. After the land-owners were approached, access to retrieve the payloads was obtained. Three of the SHSSP students plus the AREG Horus 41 tracking crew collected the payloads, and then as a surprise for the organizers were able to deliver them back to the launch venue and present them to the VIPs prior to the conclusion of their event.

Recovery – Horus 42

Horus 42’s flight recovery was also successful, although it did come close to landing on a major road! In the case of Horus 42, they were there to see the landing live! No small achievement (only about 1 in 5 flights are we there at the exact landing site).

Flight Statistics – Horus 41

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Flight Statistics – Horus 42

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Conclusion

All told, the day was considered a complete success. Both balloons achieved greater than 30km altitude, the images were successfully collected over the air on the Wenet network and 23 separate amateur stations across South Australia were involved in collecting tracking information.

The goals of Project Horus’s engagement with the Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program in bringing Amateur Radio into education were met and then some! It was fantastic again working with the crew at the University of South Australia, and we hope that AREG is again invited back next year!

Keep Watching…

Stay tuned for a further blog post this week with some video animations of the tracking and some film clips of the launch and landing activities too! More to follow…..

Project Horus Balloon Launch on WIA Field Day

The Project Horus high altitude balloon group, based in Adelaide, is planning it’s 23rd balloon launch this Sunday 15th April, launching shortly after the WIA Broadcast between 10-11am.

This will be an amateur radio oriented balloon launch, with three payloads of interest to amateurs, intended to coincide with the WIA field day.

The group will fly the FM cross band voice repeater again. The repeater will operate with a 70cm uplink and a 2m downlink.

New frequencies will be used and they are;

  • Uplink: 438.900 MHz FM + CTCSS Tone of 123Hz
  • Downlink: 144.650 MHz FM (2m experimental segment) + CTCSS tone of 123Hz.

Based on previous flights, it should be possible to access the repeater from up to 800km away at apogee, with about 30-50W. A beam will help overcome the inevitable FM capture effect problems. The downlink is easily audible on any reasonable omni directional antenna, although if you are under the balloon’s flight path you may see 20dB fades or more.

The Amateur Radio Experimenter’s Group will be running net control on the voice repeater as VK5ARG from launch control in the Adelaide Hills.  On decent it is expected that the recovery teams will need to use the cross band repeater periodically, so we ask that people please observe the directions of the net control station.

An APRS tracker will also fly on this flight under the callsign VK5ARG-11 on the national 145.175 MHz frequency.   It will be possible to track the balloon progress via http://aprs.fi , make sure you check out the new horizon ring prediction service on this flight. Telemetry format packets are now also broadcast on APRS.

The ever reliable primary 300 baud RTTY telemetry beacon will also fly – at this stage it will be on 434.075 MHz (note update) (+/- 5kHz thermal drift). This signal is used as part of the group’s “distributed listener” telemetry network where any amateur receiving the data can upload what they are hearing over the internet.

The data, which is sent to the http://spacenear.us/tracker website, contributes to the landing zone predictions used by the chase teams. The chase-tracker teams have 3G Internet data in their vehicles and are actively using and looking at that data, so it is one way amateurs can have a behind the scenes involvement in the flight’s success. NOTE: this beacon only runs 25mW and can be heard at the radio horizon, so why not give it a go!

If you would like more information about the software setup required to participate in the RTTY telemetry recovery take a look at the Project Horus tracking page here http://projecthorus.org

Confirmation that the flight is a “go” can only be given on the Sunday morning (15th). Please keep an ear out on VK5RSB 439.900 or VK5RMB 146.875MHz.

Flying high altitude balloons is subject to the weather, stratospheric wind conditions and have various constraints on where we are permitted to fly, so the potential for the mission to be cancelled exists up until the very last minute before launch. We will endeavour to update various amateur forums and DX Clusters once it is in the air. Flight time should be around 2 & 3/4 Hrs.

If you would like to find out more about Project Horus, please visit our website at  http://www.projecthorus.org/ or for some short films of our past activities, the Vimeo channel at  http://vimeo.com.  This information can also be found in the text edition of the WIA News at  http://www.wia.org.au